Director: James Mangold
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank (screenplay), Chris Claremont, Frank Miller (graphic novel)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto
Release date: July 26th, 2013
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 126 minutes
Best part: Hugh Jackman.
Worst part: The cheesy dream sequences.
Every so often, a role comes along that a certain actor was seemingly born to play. When they embody the character’s physical and psychological traits, audiences, critics, and studio executives rejoice. Like Robert Downey jr. with Tony Stark/Iron Man and Johnny Depp with Captain Jack Sparrow, Hugh Jackman continually fits his most influential role like a glove. His portrayal of Logan/Wolverine represents this century’s Superhero film renaissance; illustrating how comic book characters can become cinematic/pop-culture icons. Judging by his new film’s title, The Wolverine, everything is resting on his broad shoulders.
After the atrocious prequel/cash-grab X-men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman needed to prove that he and Logan/Wolverine can still be deemed fit to rule the big screen. In his sixth outing as the character (with the seventh, X-men: Days of Future Past, hitting our screens next year), Jackman becomes this series’ greatest facet. Tonally separated from the previous X-men movies, The Wolverine begins by showing us just how powerful the titular character can be. Witnessing WWII’s Nagasaki atomic bombing, a Japanese military officer, Yashida, panics as his superiors are performing ‘Harakiri’ (ritual suicide) and the surrounding soldiers/released prisoners are running for their lives. The remaining prisoner, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), realises that Yashida doesn’t want to die. The film then cuts to the present day, and Logan is a wanderer living in the Canadian wilderness. With a ferocious grizzly bear keeping him company (metaphor!), his recurring nightmares, featuring Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), are destroying his mental and spiritual stability. He is then summoned by a mousey assassin, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), to say goodbye to a dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). Having created a multi-billion dollar company, Yashida has the power to transfer Logan’s healing abilities from Logan to him; giving Logan the gift of mortality. Logan’s hasty refusal is followed by dangerous encounters with familial feuds, gangland warfare, cunning yet silly villainous figures, and Yashida’s gorgeous granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
Remember Logan/Wolverine’s mansion massacre in X-men 2? The Wolverine takes that awe-inspiring set-piece, and stretches it to fit the 2 hour run-time. The Wolverine may, arguably, be the best superhero movie of 2013 (so far, we still have Kick-Ass 2 and Thor: The Dark World to come). Unlike Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, it isn’t created specifically to follow on from or set up other movies. In fact, this standalone movie is a major step away from what most franchises would do with a sixth instalment. Based on the acclaimed 1982 four-issue Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the film makes a remarkable effort in detailing what makes this particular mutant tick. Despite the obvious cliches, this self-contained, intimate narrative allows for certain plot points and characters to become nuanced and compelling. Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine sheds light specifically on Logan. This story, depicting Logan’s internal struggle, bases itself on ancient and modern Japanese culture. Suffering the ‘Giri/Ninjo’ conflict (loss of balance between duty to himself and to others), Logan’s conflicting emotions, distorted code of honour, and brushes with mortality are heart-thumping and potent aspects. Thankfully, the movie touches on Samurai tradition without leaning heavily on corny comparisons between Samurais and mutants. Similarly to a ‘Ronin’ (Samurai without a master), Logan’s perilous journey unleashes his animalistic side in a fascinating and terrifying fashion. Also, the movie relishes in Logan’s past, present, and future. A tension-filled stand-off in a Canadian bar is reminiscent of the cage match/bar scenes from the original X-Men flick.
The Wolverine excels during its first two acts. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) delivers a pulsating and kinetic narrative whilst placing many enthralling and visceral intricacies into each scene. From the aforementioned WWII sequence onward, the cinematography, CGI, and practical effects portray shades of the Adamantium-laced man that previous X-Men movies avoided. The bombing sequence is a tight, tense few seconds of celluloid. Logan’s remarkable actions say much more than the scene’s dialogue. After the flames have passed, and Logan has thrown Yashida down a hole, we see, literally, everything underneath Logan’s tough, hairy exterior. Becoming a charred, godly figure standing over Yashida, Logan’s enrapturing aesthetic qualities, and the accompanying ‘sword offering’ sequence, intricately and efficiently sum up the overall narrative. Fortunately, Mangold’s idea of masculinity (seen also in Copland) is a significant part of The Wolverine. This movie steps into uncharted territory (for this franchise) thanks to its earnestness and influences. Delivering a Clint Eastwood western-esque character study filled with mutants, ninjas, Yakuza, and neon-lit settings, Mangold incorporates such influences as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Chinatown, The Fugitive, and Akira Kurosawa’s film noir/samurai movies (Yojimbo, in particular). Also, the movie’s structure is reminiscent of the Sean Connery-era Bond films (specifically You Only Live Twice). Despite its organic thematic roots, this superhero flick is bolstered by its kinetic set-pieces and distinct visuals. Many sword-fights and hand-to-hand fisticuffs are affecting and tightly composed – becoming Bourne fights with dashes of fantasy violence. Despite the third act’s overt silliness (a robotic samurai suit, really?!), the nail-biting bullet train set-piece more than makes up for the film’s minor flaws.
“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” (Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), The Wolverine).
Despite the action set-pieces and emotionally affecting story, the spotlight is placed firmly on Jackman. He and his character are what draw many cinema-goers to this franchise. The ‘legend’ of Logan/Wolverine is held in high regard here. Labelled a ‘Gaijin’ (non-Japanese), his ineptness, when faced with a vastly different culture, develops the character’s soft side whilst creating several zippy comedic moments. His gruff tone and ferocity deliver the Logan/Wolverine audiences have longed for. Walking like the T1000 and talking like the Man with No Name, Logan/Wolverine is a powerful, and berserker rage-fuelled, force to be reckoned with. His powers are also handled in an intriguing and authentic fashion – illustrated by Logan turning his claws on himself in one intense scene. Fresh off his Oscar-worthy performance in Les Miserables, Jackman is at his magnetic and charismatic best here. With his inhumanly muscular frame and affecting screen presence, Jackman’s performance is startlingly moody and convincing. Yelling at the top of his lungs throughout the movie, Jackman’s commitment to this notorious comic book figure is jaw-dropping. The ethnically diverse cast is also commendable. Fukushima, a model turned actress, is a charming presence as the slinky Yukio. Her powerful fighting skills and expressiveness convey a kick-ass female character. Hiroyuki Sanada, one of Japan’s best actors, is solid as the physically-adept Shingen. Unfortunately, Will Yun Lee’s Harada and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper seem out of place compared to the movie’s sombre tone.
With its zany action set-pieces and an intriguingly personal narrative, The Wolverine is a comic book movie that, thankfully, doesn’t seem forcibly controlled by producers/studio executives. Delivering a gritty performance and defining characteristics, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan/Wolverine illustrates why he is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors.